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Washington — Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, wrote Tuesday to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue demanding an explanation for news reports that agency officials had instructed staff to use “weather extremes” instead of the term “climate change.”

The Guardian reported on a series of emails among staff at the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service that also suggested avoiding the phrase “reduce greenhouse gases” in favor of “build soil organic matter” or “increase nutrient use efficiency.”

“Censoring the agency’s scientists and natural resource professionals as they try to communicate these risks and help producers adapt to a changing climate does a great disservice to the men and women who grow the food, fuel, and fiber that drive our economy, not to mention the agency’s civil servants themselves,” Stabenow wrote to Perdue.

“This censorship makes the United States less competitive, less food secure, and puts our rural families and their communities at risk.”

The USDA did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday but has pushed back against the news reports, telling POLITICO that there was never a directive from the Natural Resources Conservation Service that using “climate change” was prohibited, and indicating it was unclear why the officials who wrote the memos had brought up the issue with staff.

Stabenow in her letter asks Perdue whether other USDA officials have issued directives regarding the removal of “climate change” and related terms.

She also wants to know what impact the terminology change could have on implementation of USDA programs and activities, and whether USDA intends to pursue a formal rule-making or other process to accompany the policy change. She asked for a response by Aug. 23.

“As a firm believer in the science that underpins the urgent imperative to address climate change, the content of these emails is of great concern to me,” Stabenow wrote.

“USDA ought to be unequivocal in pursuing polices that uphold scientific integrity, yet these emails from senior USDA staff appear to run directly counter to such a pursuit. USDA should be open and transparent regarding the findings of agency research and the components of agency program activities that involve the topic of climate change.”

President Donald Trump has questioned the whether climate change exists and has not said whether he believes it is caused by human activity.

mburke@detroitnews.com

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